FIRST! That’s what Jim Beaver Esports has been able to claim on multiple occasions so far in 2023. In total, ‘JBeS’ can count themselves a winner three times at least already on the 2023 calendar year, and the season hasn’t even begun yet.
They were the first to announce their lineup for the new season, they’ll be the first to get a Traxion.GG ePreview for the upcoming season… and, oh yeah, one of their drivers was able to win a pickup basketball game against another driver in the series during the eNASCAR Production days.
Now the question is, with a whole new look for 2023 which includes Malik Ray and Garrett Lowe in their virtual rides, can Jim Beaver Esports claim first place during any of the 18 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series races ahead… or in the drivers or team championships?
A WHOLE NEW LINEUP
Together with Michael Guest and Blake Reynolds in 2022, Jim Beaver Esports came six points short of claiming the Team Championship at Phoenix last season. During the offseason, Reynolds put in his retirement notice while Guest went shopping around for a new team in the free agency period.
Both incoming drivers would be looking for new homes in the 2023 season, with both iRacing’s house team and the Wood Brothers not returning this year. It didn’t take long, as Jim Beaver, Malik Ray and Garrett Lowe would all be connected fairly quickly, ready to announce their news before anyone else.
While the team continues with Ford, there will be at least one change to the look of the team as far as one of the numbers is concerned. The No. 15 is Jim’s number – that won’t be changing any time soon as Lowe takes control of it. As for the No. 9? Well, that will be a No. 7 this year with Ray behind the wheel.
One thing to keep in mind – these two drivers have never worked together before. Even further, Jim Beaver Esports has never hosted drivers that weren’t from the Deadzone Racing backend team. Malik was Deadzone, now he’s Victory1. Garrett is likely back again with Legacy Esports in 2023.
“(Garrett) is a pretty chill like individual,” Malik said when asked about his new teammate. “Anytime I’ve been around him, I haven’t had any issues. If I’m faster than him, he’ll let me go, and if he’s faster than me, I just let him go. I’ve been racing him for like four or five years now and I haven’t had any issues with him at all.”
“We definitely have quite a different life balance, which is fine,” Garrett remarked about Malik. “Sometimes that produces good team dynamic. I’ve had teammates in real life that are just like him, outgoing… We’ll have to see how that works out over the course of the season, but it should be good.”
SOLID SEASONS FOR ALL IN 2022
It wasn’t either Lowe’s or Ray’s best seasons on record, but both drivers were statistically better in 2022 that they were in the 2021 season. Both drivers are entering their fifth season in the series with upward momentum in some regards.
Both drivers had to go through the Road to Pro in 2021, competing in the Contender Series to get back in 2022. When they both made it back, there was clear improvement year-over-year.
Part of it had to do with the new NASCAR NEXT Gen car, part of it from the competition level in general being raised, and part of it stemmed from both drivers looking to prove their worth in the series.
2022 Playoff Push for Lowe, top free agent in 2023
For Lowe, a victory at Kansas propelled into a playoff berth, his third appearance in four seasons. In fact, besides the calamity that the 2021 season brought the year before, GLowe has been a perennial title contender, nearly missing out on the Championship 4 in his rookie season with the Renegades.
With making the playoffs in 2022, Lowe, of course, avoided that. “It took us a little while to get our bearings with the new NEXT Gen car,” Garrett said. “Once we got that figured out at Kansas, that catapulted us into the Top 10 in points. My goal was to just generally stay in the Top 10, before the playoffs.
“We tried a bunch of different packages and set up stuff, so we knew we had a bit of room to play with as long as we had that win in our pocket. We tried to use that to our advantage… it gave us a couple opportunities, like at Darlington, I passed probably 30 cars on a short run just to try to pick up some spots. It didn’t work out, but that’s OK because we had the win to fall back on.”
It was a shock to many that the Wood Brothers wouldn’t be returning for 2023, especially for Lowe. “I found out on Friday afternoon before free agency, so I had about two days.” A two-time winner in the series, though, was more than enough on the resumé for Jim Beaver to snatch up the Ford driver.
“Obviously, I’ve had a great relationship with the Ford guys so far,” Lowe said. “Not only with the Wood Brothers and Renegades before that, but also now Jim Beaver with being a Ford team. I definitely felt like I owed my allegiance to them. Luckily enough, Jim Beaver Esports was the first one to reach out.”
New perspective, new backend team for Ray in 2023
Malik, on the other hand, scored two more Top 10 finishes than he did the year before. While his luck wasn’t always there, some off-kilter strategies put the No. 7 in some interesting situations, some working out and others, like Charlotte where he almost had it won, wound up with the bitter taste of defeat.
After returning back down to the Contender Series for the fourth time in five years and succeeding once again, Ray is hoping to avoid running that back in 2023.
“It’s getting tough, man,” Malik said. “It’s getting tough like, these past like two years I’ve barely made it in. I’ve got to start practicing, otherwise I might not be here next year.”
This season, Malik is aligned with the new-to-Coke Victory1 setup team which also houses Garrett Manes, Joey Brown, Timmy Holmes and Kevin King. In previous seasons, he’s been a part of Deadzone Racing, which did win titles with Casey Kirwan and Stewart-Haas Esports last season.
Still, with the rising stock of Victory1, which includes a Contender Series title with the returning Brown, Ray is taking himself out of the Deadzone shadow and paving his own way going forward. One thing is for certain however – Malik has made his place as a mainstay in the series, year after year.
“There’s been some newer faces and I’m still one of the ones that keeps coming back every year,” Malik said. “It makes me happy.”
With the addition of both Milwaukee and Monza this season, the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series begins to shape its own identity among the other official NASCAR racing series. No longer will the series be an exact slice from the NASCAR Cup Series schedule, but there are still plenty of similarities.
Everyone has tracks that they look forward to, and that’s no different for the two new JBeS drivers this season. Their outlooks are quite different, but maybe the two opposites could help one another find confidence at tracks they might not be looking forward to.
“Well, the tracks that I’m not looking forward to would be Monza and Watkins Glen and if there’s another road course,” Malik was quick to answer when asked. There are only two road courses this season, and neither will take place in the playoffs. There also aren’t any super speedways in the playoffs, but they are early on in the season.
“I’m a little disappointed that we have three superspeedways,” Garrett said. “I don’t like superspeedway racing. It’s not my forte.” Meanwhile, Malik was all for them. “I’m looking forward to Daytona, Atlanta, Talladega… Pocono because it’s a fixed race… Charlotte… Oh, and Darlington,” Malik said.
The other new track to the schedule is Milwaukee, a flat, wonky oval that returns to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season for the first time in many years. “I wasn’t a huge fan of Milwaukee at first, but I ran a couple of laps and I think it can potentially put on a pretty good show,” Garrett said. “I’m looking forward to that one, just to see what it brings. We’ve never been there, so one ought to be good.”
“I’m much more of a mile and a half or short track guy,” Garrett concluded. “The second half of the season will produce some pretty good racing, with tracks that are usually in my wheelhouse like Pocono and Michigan, the 2-mile tracks are those that I’m looking forward to.”
REALISTIC GOALS FOR 2023
For Jim Beaver Esports in general, having been as close as they were to the Team Championship last season, the higher ups will likely be hoping to see that deal closed in 2023. It could be more difficult not having the same crew as last year to do so.
However, if both of their drivers can meet their realistic goals that they’ve set out for themselves, it should be another great season for Jim Beaver Esports.
“To win a race and to make the playoffs and to stop being outside of the top 20 at the end of the year,” is what Malik is aiming to do this upcoming season. “It’s not fun having to race in (Contender).”
“The realistic goal is to get a win and get in the playoffs,” said Garrett, looking to do exactly what he did a season ago. However, he’s aiming higher for what he’s hoping he can get. “The ‘what I want to achieve’ goal is to get two wins and make the Final Four.”
This is the first entry of a 20-part eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series ePreview series for Traxion.GG. The 2023 season begins officially on 14th February with Race 1 at Daytona International Speedway. Race broadcasts start at 8:30 pm ET with the Countdown to Green on eNASCAR.com/live.